I suppose it shouldn't have been so shocking. After all, some restaurants seem to think it OK to make up the minimum wage with customer tips. At least there, we can leave cash tips to stop the practice.
But the idea that some leading hotel groups are effectively employing room attendants (as chambermaids are now called), who rarely receive tips, to clean rooms that can go for £200-300 a night for rates of less than £3 an hour is shocking in 2009 Britain. Last night's Newsnight showed how staff were illegally being paid on the basis that they only got the minimum wage if they cleaned 2.5 rooms an hour, regardless of size. Then some bizarre formula was used to ensure that staff got rather less than they were legally owed.
The minimum hourly wage of £5.73 is hardly a king's ransom. If you haven't seen last night's Newsnight report, do watch it while it is still on the i-player. I trust, if the evidence from the BBC's investigations is shown to be correct, that the company involved here will receive a stiff fine to show that the minimum wage is just that.
As consumers, we should start to demand a Fair Pay kitemark that hotel and restaurant chains could get only if they treat their staff well, including paying a reasonable wage. That would force them to look more closely at their contractors if they don't employ the staff directly. It could become as important as Fair Trade is to coffee shops and supermarkets. This is an area where consumer power could and should make a difference.